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Stories Needing Telling

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"Black history is undervalued across the board," says Morris "Dino" Robinson, a graphic designer pressed into the history business. Robinson was researching his family's background in the mid-1990s when the publisher of the Clarion, a monthly newspaper, asked him to write an article about African-American history in Evanston for Black History Month. "I didn't think I was the right person to do it," Robinson says. "And I assumed something comprehensive had already been written. When I looked into it, I found it hadn't." Robinson agreed, on the condition that it be a regular feature, not a one-time effort that couldn't do the history justice. The paper gave him a column (without pay), and beginning in January 1996 he wrote about subjects like the Emerson Street YMCA, founded because the Grove Street YMCA (now the McGaw YMCA) refused to admit blacks. The Clarion went out of business in '97, but by then Robinson had a clutch of columns documenting history that wasn't easily available anywhere else. With $200 of his own money and contributions from people in the area, he collected them in a book, A Place We Can Call Our Home, a chronicle of the black community from 1850 to 1930, now available at the Evanston public and school libraries. The next year, with information he hadn't used in the columns, he published Through the Eyes of Us, a time line that runs from 1850 through 1998 packaged with a CD of interviews with his sources (some now dead). In 1999, looking for a way to get information out faster, he established a nonprofit organization to publish a quarterly news and history magazine, Shorefront Journal. Shorefront has put out 14 issues so far, grown from 4 to 24 pages, and now underwrites some of the research it publishes. Along the way, Robinson was elected board president of the Evanston Historical Society. He'll speak at a history showcase that includes Carolyn De Swarte Gifford (Writing Out My Heart: Selections From the Journal of Frances E. Willard, 1855-96) and David Bridges (The Best Coal Company in All Chicago and How It Got That Way) at 2 on Saturday, May 31, in the Evanston Public Library at Church and Orrington in Evanston. It's free; call 847-866-0300 for more information.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joeff Davis.

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